Sunday, October 14, 2007

Jiddu's Last Gift: Pomegranates

Two weeks ago a beloved elder in our extended family passed away. We all called him Jiddu (grandpa). He was 77 years old and he spent the last 27 years of his life in exile. He grew up in Kerbala, where he learned Farsi from the Iranians who lived there. In 1980, after Saddam Hussein took over Iraq, many Iraqi Shia were accused of being Iranian. Thousands of Iraqis were imprisoned, killed, and many were rounded up and dropped off at the Iranian border. Jiddu was one of those Iraqis who was taken to the Iranian border. The group he was with walked across the mine-infested area where some of them were killed by exploding mines. They walked all day into Iran, and after sunset some of them began to think they would die like the others, some of them thought they would be attacked by wild dogs. Finally, in total darkness they climbed to a hilltop, from which they saw lights: it was a camp that had been set up by Iran to receive Iraqi refugees. He stayed in Iran for a few months and then with his cousin's financial help, Jiddu moved to Dubai, where he opened a small grocery store. He struggled in Dubai for 15 years, and in 1995, after his grocery store failed, he moved to California to live with his daughter and son-in-law.

I met Jiddu for the first time when I moved the Bay area a couple of years ago. I learned so much from this great man, a true Muslim. Over the summer we took Jiddu to Sausalito, where we sat down at a Starbucks at the end of the day. My cousin asked Jiddu if he realized that we were buying tea and coffee from Jews (the CEO of Starbucks is Jewish) - I guess she expected him to spit out his tea in disgust. Instead he replied by saying "we're giving our money to Jews? Even better! Jews are the original people of the book!" He went on to explain that Iraq had a great Jewish community for centuries, and that we Muslims should be friendly with Jews as the Quran instructs.

Many people from all backgrounds, maybe half of them Iranian, came to his funeral. Everybody who knew him loved him. I started writing this post a few days after his funeral, but his relatives were afraid that telling his story and posting his photo might put them in danger (Iraqis are still fearful of the old regime), so I decided to post photos of pomegranates from Jiddu's small garden, which he cared for so well. Jiddu's pomegranates have been distributed to his friends and family during this Eid. Eyamek sa3eeda (may your days be happy) in Heaven ya Jiddu.

I just ate this one. It was perfectly sweet and sour:

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